Behind Enemy Lines: Lions

The Bears are heavily favored to win their third straight NFC North title, but could one of their division rivals make a run at it? Lions expert Nate Caminata drops by BearReport.com to detail everything that has happened in Detroit this offseason. Why is Jon Kitna so confident? How good can Calvin Johnson be right away? Who will replace Dre' Bly at corner? Find out the answers inside.

John Crist: A lot of players have been running their mouths lately as to how good the team is going to be this season, specifically quarterback Jon Kitna and wide receiver Mike Furrey. Are you drinking their kool-aid, or are your expectations a little more in check?

Nate Caminata: I've personally never understood the criticism of players that have high expectations or a positive outlook. Are they expected to respond to the question, "We're looking mediocre, maybe 7-9 or 8-8"? Morale and confidence play as big of a role in success on the football field as talent, so I don't think it's kool-aid as much as it is players who believe in each other and the team. It's too early, in my opinion, for any media member of any team to form any kind of reasonable season forecast. Many things happen between now and the end of training camp, for both the good and the bad.

I do feel the Lions roster has witnessed significant upgrades, the coaching staff has another year under its belt, and many of the fresh faces in 2006 have had a chance to build chemistry – and none of those factors can hurt the team's chances in 2007.

JC: Review what Detroit did in free agency and trades this offseason. Who are the key additions, who was sent packing, and who might be missed?

NC: The team did a nice job acquiring support in the offensive backfield, both via trade and free agency. The addition of T.J. Duckett (Atlanta) and Tatum Bell (via trade/Denver) are significant because of two reasons. First, Kevin Jones, while the most talented back on the roster, isn't the most reliable. And two, it gives Mike Martz more toys to operate with in his offense. Defensively, the key acquisition was defensive end DeWayne White. White shores up the absence of James Hall (traded to St. Louis) but gives the team an every-down threat that has experience in Rod Marinelli's version of the Tampa 2 defense.

The biggest loss would easily be Dre' Bly. While Bly was a locker room cancer and on the downside of his career, it's difficult to argue his on-field production. Quite simply, he was the most productive Lion in the past several years. Making matters worse, the team didn't necessarily make an effort to replace him in the secondary. That could haunt the team in 2007.

JC: Look back at the Lions' draft and evaluate how they did. Most everyone agreed that wide receiver Calvin Johnson was the best player available, but who else do you believe can step in and contribute right away?

NC: Johnson will obviously be an immediate impact player and improve the players around him. However, much of Detroit's draft was concentrated on depth, or at least providing it to positions of need. Martz will groom Drew Stanton to eventually unseat starting quarterback Jon Kitna in the next two years, while later round selections – cornerback A.J. Davis, linebacker Johnny Baldwin and offensive guard Manuel Ramirez – are long-term projects.

Two players of interest are defensive end Ikaika Alama-Francis and safety Gerald Alexander. Each possesses incredible athletic prowess and could see immediate playing time should they transition well. Alama-Francis is built in the Jason Taylor mold, making him a player that both the coaching staff and media will be watching intently.

Brian Bahr/Getty Images

JC: Offensively, what's the status of running back Kevin Jones' injury? When does the team expect him back, and does he have a chance to finally live up to his immense talent this season?

NC: The prevailing thought is Jones will be OK, but only time will truly tell. The type of injury he suffered can end careers, or it can be shrugged off during an offseason depending on the severity. It isn't thought that the injury he suffered did extensive damage, but given his hard-nosed, north-south mentality, it has the potential to give him long-lasting affects.

I believe if he can make it through the last portion of training camp – he'll likely be heldout in the initial weeks – and the preseason and emerge as the better of the running backs, he will be fine. However, if his repetitions drop and Bell or Duckett share the bulk of the duties, it could be early signs that the injury will have a disastrous affect on what could be a stellar career.

JC: As for the defense, who is going to take the place of Dre' Bly at cornerback? The secondary wasn't especially good in 2006 with him, so could it be even worse in 2007 without him?

NC: No one will replace Dre' Bly, and I think the Lions knew that when they traded him. Still, Bly did not fit the Cover-2 mold, and privately the team felt he hurt more than helped the locker room in Detroit. They will turn to Stanley Wilson, who doesn't have the explosiveness or big-play ability of Bly but is a solid replacement. The Lions will still seek potential corners during the remainder of the offseason, but if Wilson struggles, they will pursue a big name in next year's free-agency market.

The rest of the secondary is still iffy. The team has a nice set of safeties in Daniel Bullocks and Kenoy Kennedy, and Fernando Bryant is a tested – albeit health-challenged – veteran at one corner spot. If there's any preconceived weakness in 2007 for the Lions, it's in the secondary.

To read Part II of this series, where John answers five questions from Nate, Click Here.

John Crist is the Editor in Chief of BearReport.com. Nate Caminata is the Publisher of RoarReport.com.


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